Sep 21, 2013

Why You Should Be Watching "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia"

And this isn't the only reason.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia has been airing on FX since 2005, but since it has less than half of the number of episodes of an ordinary sitcom, it's only up to about 100 episodes to date.

The premise sounds like many sitcoms:  Five friends run a bar together, and engage in various wacky schemes to make money or improve their social standing in the community:

1. The Ivy-League-educated but underachieving Davis (Glenn Howerton, far left).
2. His twin sister Dee, an aspiring actress.
3. Davis's roommate, muscular martial-arts enthusiast Mac (Rob McElhenney)
4. The dimwitted Charlie (Charlie Day, right and above)
5. Davis and Dee's crooked millionaire dad, Frank (Danny DeVito, not shown).

But it's not like any other sitcom on television.

First, there's a lot of improv.

Second, there are complex interconnecting storylines, a la Seinfeld.

Third, the characters are sociopaths: manipulative, egotistical, amoral, sexist, completely oblivious to other people's feelings, even willing to betray each other to further their own agenda (although there are occasional  glimmers of affection).

Fourth, it's comedy genius.

There is no homophobia (although in one episode Mac feigns homophobia to win back his transsexual ex-girlfriend).

Gay characters appear frequently, and gay subtexts abound.

Actor Glenn Howerton states that he plays Davis as "ambiguously gay," longing for the attention of both men and women.  Davis and Mac are roommates and homoromantic partners who go out to a nice dinner every month, "just the two of us."

Frank and Charlie are obviously lovers.  They live together, sleep in the same bed, and play naked games with unspecified rules.  They get married, and later file for divorce, but decide to stay together when their divorce lawyer points out the "love between them."

When Frank begins dating Charlie's mother, Charlie devises a wild scheme to break them up, and then yells "Don't try to steal my man again!"

They go out for an anniversary dinner, and Frank begins a speech: "Meeting you has changed my life..." before he's interrupted.

All of the guys have respectable physiques, and there are substantial shirtless and semi-nude scenes.

Did I mention that it's wildly funny?

 The actors are all gay allies.  Rob McElhenney (left), who plays Mac, was "partially raised by two moms."

Enough talk -- go to Netflix or Amazon and start watching, already.

See also: Trailer Park Boys

Sep 20, 2013

Shane Harper: Closet Heterosexual

Shane Harper has been bouncing around the Disney Channel for a few years, guest starring in Zoey 101, Wizards of Waverly Place, and Good Luck, Charlie.

He just had an album released, so I check out the heterosexism: the number of songs that shout "girl! girl! girl!," thus proclaiming that every relationship is heterosexual and invalidating the desires and relationships of LGBT fans.

Not much heterosexism.

His beefcake photos, like this one with the effeminate rings, flashy color coordination, and pretending to grab his...., give off a gay vibe.

I immediately think: this guy must be gay.  Or trying to draw in gay fans.

Yeah, I see the cross.  So what?  Lots of religious guys are gay or gay-positive.

Not this one.

God's Not Dead, which is coming out in 2014, will star Shane as a college student who discovers that God's not dead.

Please -- The Death of God  (1961) was a book complaining that modern society had lost its sense of transcendence, the magical in everyday life.  The author didn't mean that the actual Supreme Being was dead.  Besides, that was 50 years ago.  Why are fundamentalists still upset about it?

It will also star former Hercules Kevin Sorbo as an evil college professor who forces his students to write papers stating "God is dead."  Fundamentalists think this happens all the time, but college professors don't force students to accept any point of view. They say "6% of the U.S. population is atheist" or "Atheists use three arguments..."

Kevin Sorbo is a big-time homophobe who has starred in a number of "Christian," gay-, women-, and Muslim-bashing movies, such as The 12 Biggest Lies.

In an interview, Shane states that he only takes "wholesome" and "uplifting" roles. He would be ok with playing a murderer, as long as the movie established that murder is wrong.

Is he being offered many roles in movies proclaiming that murder is right?

But he wouldn't be ok with playing a gay character, or with giving fans the impression that he is gay in real life.

Too late.

Sep 18, 2013

Gay Characters in an Arabic Movie from 1978

The last thing I expected was to find gay characters in a movie from the Middle East, produced in 1978.  But there they are, in Alexandria...Why (Iskanderija...Lih?), directed by Youssef Chahine.  It is set in Egypt during World War II, when Allied troops are occupying Alexandria and German General Rommel is at the door.

Chahine, who died in 2008, was rumored to be gay, and you can tell immediately: the movie is full of men, lying naked in bed, swimming in the Mediterranean, their shirts ripped off during fights, all beautifully filmed, but juxtaposed with images of Hitler's troops and appalling violence.

There are three interconnected stories, each of which could make a full-length movie all by itself.

1. Yehia (Mohsen Mohieddin), a student at the elite Victoria College, spends his time at the movies.  He is obsessed with Hollywood and all things American, even preferring to speak English over Arabic or French.  I thought he was the gay character -- he's soft, passive, pretty, and uninterested in girls -- he keeps refusing when his friends want to go look for girls, and when they find one, he doesn't participate in the sex.

He eventually gets a girlfriend -- with sex scenes displaying male but not female nudity -- but when he wins a film competition, he leaves her to go to America.  The last scene shows a grotesque Jewish-stereotype Statue of Liberty grinning at him as barbarous Hasidic Jews wait with open arms, suggesting that he's made a mistake, that American is occupied by "the enemy."

2. In spite of the offensive antisemitism, Yehia's neighbor and confidant is a middle-aged Jewish woman, in love with a Muslim man.

3. You can get anything on the black market, and Yehia's wealthy uncle (Ahmed Zaki) likes to buy Allied soldiers, rape them, and then kill them.  But he feels sorry for his latest victim, a brawling British soldier (Gerry Sundquist, British teen idol who played Karpenko in Meetings with Remarkable Men), and lets him live.

They embark on a dominant-submissive romance that mirrors the Western dominance of the Middle East, especially the habit of wealthy gay Europeans of taking homoerotic holidays to have sex with Arab rent boys.  It's not portrayed as a positive relationship, but at least it's open, not requiring a subtext.

It is a bright, bustling, vibrant, colorful movie tinged with horror.  It's also disjoint, overpacked with irrelevant events, losing the main stories in detail. And antisemitic and homophobic. But definitely worth a look.


Sep 17, 2013

Henry Brandon and Judy Garland's Husband

Born in Germany in 1912, Henry Brandon had a long career as a character actor, playing villains of every ethnic group.

Silas Barnaby in Babes in Toyland (1934).

Chinese mastermind Fu Manchu in the well-known serial, Drums of Fu Manchu (1940).

The evil Indian chief Scar in The Searchers (1956), who runs afoul of John Wayne.

Acacius in Auntie Mame (1958), who runs an avant-garde, pro-nudity school in Greenwich Village.

Very few leading roles.  Maybe he was too "ethnic."  Or maybe he was too "confirmed bachelor," as his wikipedia biography euphemizes.

In the 1960s Henry met the young actor Mark Herron (born in 1928), formerly the manager of Judy Garland, and her husband, briefly, in 1965-66.

She feigned shock and disgust after finding him in flagrante delicto with a male actor/model; but really, shouldn't she have had a clue when the marriage was unconsummated after eight months?  

Or when he had an affair with her daughter's husband, Peter Allen?

Mark and Henry remained together for nearly thirty years, until Henry's death in 1990 (Mark died six years later.)

Oddly, you can find lots of photos on the internet of Mark and Judy, but none of Mark and Henry, who were together 40 times longer.

Kostja Ullmann after Summer Storm

You've probably seen Kostja Ullmann in Summer Storm (Sommersturm), the amazing German movie (2004) about gay people who aren't trapped in a pre-Stonewall world of angst, homophobia, and silence.  The 28-year old actor has been a fixture of German tv and film ever since, usually in projects that require nude or semi-nude shots.

 Not a lot of gay content, but some atypical sexual situations that lend themselves to queer symbolism.

He reunites with Sommersturm costar Marlon Kittel in The School Trip (Klassenfahrt, 2004).

I haven't seen The Ode to Joy (2006), about German prisoners of war in Japan during World War I, but POW movies always have strong gay subtexts.

What's going on in this episode of Dona Leon entitled "The Girl of His Dreams"?  It's about an inspector trying to solve the murder of a Gypsy girl.  Maybe Kostja is a suspect.

In Hounded (Verfolgt), aka Punish Me (2006), a troubled teen named Jan (Kostja) begins a destructive relationship with his middle-aged probation officer.  She's a woman, but Jan's androgyny gives the move some strong gay symbolism.

Stellungswechsel (2007) is about five guys who set up a male-escort service.  All female clients, but still....

Sep 16, 2013

TKKG: German Boyfriends Who Solve Mysteries

Radio dramas about TKKG, a group of German teen sleuths like the Three Investigators or The Famous Five, first appeared in 1981,and are still going strong, with episodes like "The Treasure in the Dragon's Lair," "Fear on the Autobahn," and "The Murderer from Another Time."  They are arguably the most popular juvenile pop culture icons in Germany, with novelizations, comic books, cartoons, and video games. And, of course, movies: Drachenauge (Dragon's Eye), 1992, and TKKG und die raetselhafte Mind-Machine (2006).  

TKKG is named after the initials of the teens:

1. Tim (previously Tarzan), age 14, the leader and the jock of the group (played by Jannis Niewohner in 2006).

2. Karl, the gay-coded, androgynous brain (Jonathan Dumcke, left).

3. Dumpling (Kloschen), the chocolate-loving fat guy (Lukas Eichammer)

4. Gaby (Svea Bein), the girl who keeps being told "stay here where it's safe."

The radio series has some gay subtexts between Tim and Karl, making them veritable boyfriends, and gives none of the characters significant heterosexual interest.  But the 2006 movie drops boyfriends and girlfriends all around.  Although Karl remains gay-vague and androgynous.

Jonathan Dumcke died in August 2013, at age 22, while on holiday with his family in Italy.  No word on whether he was gay in real life.

Jannis Niehwohner became the standout star, going on to fame in the young-love Summer (2008), the girl-power comedy Freche Madchen 2 (2010), and the time-traveling fantasy Rubinrot (2013), plus the upcoming tv movie Heroes (2013), in which two brothers "become soul mates" as a black hole threatens to destroy the world.

Maybe he'll finally get another soul mate.

Sep 15, 2013

Kimba, the Italian Tarzan

I'm a devotee of all things Tarzan, including the original novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the movies, the tv series, the comic books and comic strips, the Big-Little Books, the pastiches and parodies.  And the imitations.  Dozens of unauthorized Tarzans and barely-disguised Tarzan clones swung through the trees.  There were French, German, Russian, Arabic, Turkish, Chinese, Hindi, and even Swahili versions.

I thought I had seen them all.  But I just found another.

Not to be confused with Kimba the White Lion, Kimba, re del'Africa nera ("The King of Black Africa") was an Italian photo-comic book series of the 1970s.  It's not listed in the Grand Comics Database, so I don't know how many issues came out, but I know that there were versions in French (Kimba, Roi de la Jungle) and German.

Here he is battling a masked villain who looks like the Phantom, but is actually Il Ragno (The Spider).  And yes, you saw right -- it's a guy trapped in the spider web.

From what I can gather, Kimba rescued men as often as women.  Here he's fighting what looks like some Vikings in pink dresses.

His comic book was unique in that it was not drawn.  Every panel was a photograph of a live-action scene.  Sort of like screen shots for a movie that was never produced.

The model for Kimba was Vito Fornari, who also starred in a photonovel comic series about a psychopath named Killing (translated into Satanick in France and Sadistik in England) and his dominatrix companion Diana.  Vito seemed to be mostly involved with the rescue of ladies in bikinis from the nefarious couple.

In the 1980s Vito moved into sex comedies: Gift Girls (1980), W la foca (1982), and Adam and Eve (1983).  His last credited role was in Il giuoco dei sensi (The Game of the Senses, 2001).

It seems an appropriate end to his career.

Andre Kinney: Disney Teen Star, Gay Without a Doubt

In Armored (2009), 19-year old Andre Kinney played Jimmy Hackett, the younger brother of security guard Ty Hackett (Columbus Short, left), and the object of his last-minute rescue and fade-out hug.

In Relative Stranger (2009), about a father (Eriq La Salle) trying to reconnect with his family, Andre played the gay-vague best friend of the teenage daughter.

Andre was a Disney teen on the first season of Hannah Montana (2006-2007): He played Cooper, the gay-vague best friend of Hannah's older brother Jackson (Jason Earles).  Disney pulled out every trick it could think of, other than Saying the Word, to indicate that Cooper was gay.  

He had feminine leisure interests, drank "fruity" drinks, and had a blatantly intimate, physical relationship with Jackson.  After the first season, he was written out; Jackson was becoming increasingly gay-coded himself, and giving him a gay-coded best buddy would be a little too obvious, even for Disney.

In 2003-2004, he had a recurring role on NYPD Blue as Michael Woodruff, a boy who witnessed his father murder his mother, now living with Detective Jones (Henry Simmons, left). Hollywood Reporter Nancy Mills, unaware that gay men exist, states that the unveiling of Detective Jones "created a major flutter among female viewers with his sculpted-by-Michelangelo physique."  But he also caused a flutter in Michael Woodruff.

Before that, as an 11-year old, he starred in the short "Sonny Listening" (2002) is about a young boy "finding his heart in an abandoned boxing gym."  I haven't seen it, but it stars Andre Kinney and Art Evans, Bruce Willis' boyfriend in Die Hard 2, so I can imagine.

Last February, Andre posted a picture of himself, his killer abs, and his boyfriend on Instagram, and asked "Any questions?"

Although the media tried to get some buzz going with headlines like  "Disney GAY SHOCKER," no one was actually shocked.  10 years of  roles as gay-vague kids and teens who get crushes on hunky men -- was there any doubt?

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